Corporate life in Europe no match for life of volunteering back home

The Labour Weekend influx of holidaymakers and day trippers into Raglan might tempt more than the odd local to leave the hordes to it, but not Hinemoa Rossi.
Why head out of town, asks this passionate volunteer in the Whaingaroa community, when “paradise is your own backyard”.

Hinemoa’s own little piece of paradise these days is a home tucked in at the end of Taipari Ave in Raglan West, with only bush separating her property from Poihakena Marae and with the Pokohue creek – where she played as a child – running by so close she can hear it trickling.

It’s a gentle space to be, she says, and pretty much where she’s based herself since returning from Europe to Whaingaroa with her Italian husband, Alex, and their toddler son, Tainui, 18 years ago.

That’s when this now 50-something – a Kereopa by birth – took on what she calls her first volunteer gig.  It was with Te Kopua 2B3 Incorporation which looks after ancestral Maori land blocks along Riria Kereopa Memorial Drive.
A long-held vision by local Maori to build a papakainga there has so far seen the construction of three homes. All are currently rented out to whanau because, as Hinemoa explains, “when our family come home they can’t afford to live in this town”.

Hinemoa stresses she’s just one of many who have helped the vision become a reality by working collaboratively, each using their own skills. Hers are in business, having worked for the Union Bank of Switzerland in London where she says years of corporate meetings honed her organisational skills.
“They turned me into a diplomat … none of this shoot-from-the-hip Kereopa stance,” she laughs. The one-time Raglan Area School dux and former UBS business analyst now rates diplomacy – and negotiation – among her strengths.

Reintegrating into the community and drawing on those strengths, Hinemoa also became involved – following on from her parents – in the continuing growth of Poihakena Marae and helping in the establishment in 2000 of what is now known as Xtreme Zero Waste.
Xtreme’s success, she says, relied on the collaboration of many people with “great values” centred on nurturing Papatuanuku or Mother Earth.

About 2009 Hinemoa found herself in another local volunteering role, as coordinator of  Poihakena Marae’s debut television appearance on ‘Marae DIY’.
This was a daunting project with a “really amazing” outcome, she says. “Look at the transformation of our marae. It’s always busy and full with evening classes … it goes from strength to strength.”

The nearby Kokiri Centre’s stage, which has been used for various music and cultural festivals over the years, also got a makeover in a more recent series of ‘Marae DIY’. Hinemoa was again involved although cousin Angeline Greensill coordinated that project, with help from many others.

“We are very humble, our people,” says Hinemoa. “We quietly work together to advance a bigger goal: ultimately the nurturing of whanau and retention of land.”

Sometimes, though, achieving those goals has demanded a more public stand. Her father’s sister, the late Eva Rickard, campaigned and marched for local Maori land rights in the 1970s. Her father’s older brother, Sam Kereopa – with his rifle – kept an eye on their whaanga whenua.

“My aunts and uncles were amazing role models,” she says. “I am honoured to be able to stand on their shoulders.”

Hinemoa is proud of the way her people pull together, and says this was a factor in her return home from overseas once she had a son of her own (who was born in London). “I wanted him to have sand in his toes, meet the whanau, know the whenua and be raised here as I was.
“I’m passionate about this place.”

One of Hinemoa’s more visible roles in the community has been as chair of the area school’s board of trustees for five or six years. It was her mother Amelia’s idea. “She loved to volunteer, even if it meant volunteering me.”
Hinemoa says a major focus – with the help of “really great people on the board” – was to keep the school tiking all the boxes and supporting then principal Clive Hamill. She still retains a paid job there as the executive officer.
Around this time Hinemoa was also busy with her young son off to rugby, basketball and  swimming – and wearing so many hats – that she reckons she needed to get in shape to cope with it all.

Fitness became a fixation and now, she says, she can’t stop. The annual TriMaori triathlons at Lake Karapiro are her main thing, along with involvement in Raglan Swimming Club. Hinemoa, who’s currently club treasurer, believes proficiency at ocean swimming in particular is “critical” for west coasters. “This is not a gentle coast.”

She says her immediate neighbours in Taipari Ave are involved in the club in various ways too. “We brainstorm over the back fence all the time,” she laughs.

Former neighbour Lisa Thomson reckons Hinemoa is her  “number one volunteer” at Raglan’s annual Karioi Classic cycling event. Registration, data entry, controlling the one-way bridge traffic … “I do whatever”, says Hinemoa.

She also directs traffic at Raglan’s Soundsplash music festival. That’s one of the toughest jobs, she insists. “Three days on site with 8000 people rolling in and out…”

Although Hinemoa doesn’t really enjoy that particular job, she says the friendship and sense of responsibility that go with any volunteering role make it all worthwhile.

Edith Symes